Monday, January 14, 2013

June Lake (in Winter)

June Lake

June lake is a small alpine lake on the south west side of Mt. Saint Helens. I like to snowshoe to it in January. It is a easy to medium to hard hike, depending on the weather. But before we go, let's get our heads on straight.

In good weather, this is a lovely and straightforward outing that you could probably do with a Precis and a pair of snowshoes. But the weather up there is unpredictable and you really should be ready for some bad stuff. So:

  1. Go in a vehicle with some ground clearance. A Subaru Forester is good enough (if you know when to turn back)
  2. Have Chains or Snow Tires.
  3. Practice putting your chains on.
  4. Have gloves, flashlight, and tarp for assisting in putting on the chains (the tarp is to sit on in the snow).
  5. Have several layers of clothing with an outside waterproof layer. It has rained on me in January up there before.
  6. Get a Map.
  7. Don't trust your Smart Phone (very spotty coverage, and it could be raining).
  8. Have a set of dry clothes to put on at the end.
  9. Have a big black trash bag for the wet stuff at the end.
  10. Don't do this one alone unless the weather really is perfect. It is so easy to slip and fall on snow.
  11. Oh, and a get a snow park pass from REI the day before. 3 bucks.

Ok. Do we feel safe now? (Hey, I am assuming you bring the usual shelter, matches, first aid, warm hat. Etc.)

Off we go.

View Larger Map

It is a bit of a drive up to St. Helens from Portland. Not too bad, and much of it is curving winding mountain road, so it keeps your attention. Don't speed through the small towns !! It isn't polite. And be careful around the sharps turns and bridges, There is Ice and Deer.

But all in all, things don't really get interesting until you pass Cougar (which is where you should stop and use the facilities at the somewhat hidden but decent rest stop on the right).

Just after the rest room, we will pass over the swift river and start up into the mountains, the snow will start accumulating now, and the plows are less frequent, so watch what you are doing and stop and put on chains if you need them. ASSUME YOU WILL NEED THEM. (though, on this trip, I didn't).

Follow the road signs toward “SNOW PARKS” (and Ape Cave). We want to go to the second SNOW PARK on the road (the first one is Cougar, the second one is <something> mountain.

But in the winter, we are really going to the end of the road. When you see the big mound of snow (usually with a plow parked by it) in the middle of the road, you know you are there. I usually park in the lot to the right, because the upper park, on the left, is filled with snow-mobile paraphernalia.

Today there were only about 6 cars in the lot. Empty. The sun was out and the sky was blue forever. Wow. Nothing like the fog we left in Hillsboro. It was around 28 degrees, but no wind, so we changed into a few layers, threw on our packs and snowshoes and headed out on the hike.

There are a couple of ways you can approach June Lake from this parking lot. Some involve going up and over and around the local lava flows. This is a favorite loop for cross country skiers. There are also some in-woods trails. But as we were making a late start of it (it was almost 1:00 when we finally got hiking) we decided to take the road to the June Lake Trailhead. It is around a half mile. And the bad thing about it is that the snow-mobiles going by give off so much exhaust that it makes it hard to breath. Really. With the very light breeze we had both of my hiking partners where coughing.

But the view was grand. We passed a couple of mountain creeks on our way to the trailhead. And quite a few people out to enjoy the day and explore. I met a very nice couple that asked the way to June lake and they had an Osprey packs, much like mine. What a great pack.

Chip gets in close for some snow shots.

When we got to the trail head we had already heated up a little, so I stopped and took off my jacket in preperation for heading up hill. I ended up being quite comfortable in just my base layer and a thin thermal vest. I do NOT like getting all sweaty when the temperature is below freezing.

In the summer you can drive to the trailhead and park. In the winter there is 4 foot of snow and you can look down on the trail map from above.

And from there it is 1.5 miles to the lake. Up hill. Medium grade.

Lots of pines. Lots of Snow. And on this glorious day, lots of blue sky and views of the mountain.



Wabbit Twacks !!

The younger guys spent a lot of energy going off trail and having fun. I pretty much stuck to the well trodden trail because I wanted to enjoy the brief time we would have at the lake.

After much walking you finally come to a steep incline that leads you to the last little bit which is on steep-to cliff siding. The June Lake creek down below you. Around the turn, over the bridge and there you are at the foot of a lava flow and the true cliff, with a waterfall feeding the little lake called June. She is so cute. And for some reason, not frozen even in the height of winter. It must be that the water is moving quickly enough to stay liquid. There is even green moss still growing in the lake, though everything that sticks above the water is Ice.




When I go on a hike like this, I like to spend a little time at the destination and relax and refuel. Brian and Chip had brought quick boilers, and I had brought the actual food (soup and Subway !!) and we spread out a space blanket in the snow and had a nice relaxing lunch. Earl Grey for me.

We spent about a half hour eating lunch and shooting pictures. But it was getting toward 4:30 and the sun was starting to sink in the sky. Great Time for some Photos !! But also time to get back to the car. Besides, as the sun sank, the temperature was dropping and we had lost our uphill heat. Time to pack up and head back down.

I am always amazed at how much easier it is to walk down hill than up. It also seems much steeper going downhill than up. Sections that I didn't even notice coming up seemed almost dangerous going back down. Strange.

But we did stop at each of the mountain views and get some pictures of St. Helens in the orange and red paintings of dusk. It was great lighting.



We got back to the car just as Jupiter was starting to shine. So of course we paused to try some star shots.

One tradition my friends and I have is to stop in the Cougar Bar and Grill on the way back home (in Cougar, natch). It is handy and easy to find and a great place for dinner. They have good beer and good food and pretty fun local venue. CHECK IT OUT !!


  1. Do you think the lake remains warm due to thermal energy from the volcano? I have no idea, actually, and I'm just wondering out loud. :)

    1. Karen,
      Thank you for writing. I don't think it is thermal because there was no steam rising from the water. This is certainly a setting for some geo-thermal action, however.

  2. Precis? Are you referring to a thing or the usual definition: "a type of summary or abridgment"... ?

    " mountain", yeah, I've been there. A real definite place. ;D

    1. Harry,
      Thank you for commenting.
      I was referring to the car. I had to slightly obscure the spelling because of current legal battles.